At the moment I write this I am three quarters through my sixth novel. Since the first week of November, 2013, I have finished five novels, and revised the first. They range in subject matter from paranormal commando thrillers, to a western, an apocalyptic sea critter yarn, and a Hollywood fantasy. If your time is brief, this is what you need to know about novel writing:
Anybody can do it. You just have to be persistent.
That’s it, that is all there is to it. Uh oh, I can hear you guys right now muttering negativity. Look, I know it’s hard. Not “Hard” like giving birth, building a house, milking a King Cobra, just hard in the way that getting good at anything is hard. Once you find a story that demands to be told all you have to do is write it.
I write, or try to write every day. On the few days I don’t, I’m still thinking about the story. My routine has been broken up so that I can get to writing earlier, take a break by showering, and then returning to writing with new ideas I got while in the shower. I’m reading a lot more now too, I have to refill the brain. Now that I have a process I’ve begun to push my writing harder, and that means tackling subjects that are more real. Viewing this as a challenge is what drives me. I could be that guy who writes his first novel, and then rewrites it, and revises it for years, but at right now I want to show potential agents and publishers that I can write productively. Writing a bunch of novels has built my narrative muscles, and I couldn’t be happier.
I’m going to share some things I’ve learned about getting the novel together, and keeping it all going.
- Start with a good story. Good characters will drop into your head from the either to be in a good story. A good story drives everything else.
- Once you have your main characters, take time on the side to polish them up. I write short stories that take place before my novel begins to put them through their paces so I can see who they are. From these stories I draw up a profile page to refer to when writing the novel.
- Keep a character list. When the story begins rolling new characters will pop up. Write them down on a separate page with a brief description, and page and chapter number they first appear in. If needed, keep a reference of all of the chapters they’re in. The list comes in handy, it saves you time when you get stuck trying to remember the name of the cop from back in chapter five. The other thing is does is gives you people you can come back to when you need something. I have had minor characters turn into key players later in the book from scanning my list and realizing I already had someone for the plot development.
- Stop every 10 chapters and read the story. It keeps you honest, and often I have found something to use in the later chapters.
- Give yourself a break. I said write every day, but realistically there are days it’s not going to happen. Take those days off. Take a walk, paint the house, pet the cats, see a movie, or whatever. Just get back to it the next day.
- Pull out your DVDs and play them with the director’s commentary. If there’s a writer’s commentary play that one too. Listening to Ridley Scott discussing why he made lighting choices, or put the camera where he did can enlighten you in your quest to tell your own story. The writer’s commentary should drive home the fact that there’s a lot of rewriting involved. All movies start with a writer and a story.
- Talk to other writers. You should have writer friends. Join a group or take a class at the local junior college to meet people. It will help.
- Don’t over think it. The thing that blows me away is that every story is different, with different challenges to overcome. Some writers swear by a strict outline, others just sit down and wing it. At this point I’ve done both. Being too attached to a single process can and will get in the way. Do what the story dictates. You have to treat it as a living thing.
- Have fun. If you’re not having fun then your reader won’t either. And yes, you can have fun while writing a story about your childhood trauma. The fun comes from knowing you’ve created art, and if you’re crying like a baby at the end of your daily writing session you are winning the game…and that is fun.
- Don’t write the easy stuff, even when you’rewriting the easy stuff. What am I talking about? Read some Elmore Leonard.